Raheem Sterling sees red in England’s draw with Ecuador
Liverpool midfielder drew angry reaction from Antonio Valencia who was also dismissed
England’s Steven Gerrard (right) consoles teammate Raheem Sterling (left) after he was shown a red card against Ecuador at the Sun Life Stadium in Miami, USA. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Perhaps Roy Hodgson was correct and it was always a risk placing too much trust in a player of 19. Raheem Sterling is a player of rare gifts but he is also raw and inexperienced and that was very evident here on an occasion that might have blown any lingering chance of persuading England’s manager to risk him in his starting XI when the World Cup starts.
Sterling should probably just be grateful no ban will carry over into the tournament after the wild, scything challenge on Antonio Valencia that saw him sent off 14 minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute. The Liverpool player was reckless, inviting trouble, and Hodgson is not the kind of manager who wants to take risks on players he suspects might not be entirely trustworthy. Not in a World Cup, anyway.
Valencia was also sent off for his reaction, grabbing Sterling by the neck, and it was a sour note to a day that also saw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain leave the pitch with a second-half injury. The good news for Hodgson is that Wayne Rooney is back in the scoring groove and there was also plenty to admire about the performance of Rickie Lambert, England’s second scorer.
Equally, Hodgson will know England cannot expect to get very far in Brazil if they defend this generously. He will be glad to have his first-choice defence back for Saturday’s friendly against Honduras.
The opportunity was here for the support cast to stake a claim for a starting position in the World Cup but that works two ways and it quickly became apparent this could also be an occasion that worked in favour of the absentees. Chris Smalling did little to further his credentials, bearing in mind his inability to prevent Enner Valencia’s eighth-minute goal. Luke Shaw should be encouraged by his first England start but he might also reflect he could have done better for Valencia’s header and, defensively, Hodgson’s team started the game poorly, looking awkward and vulnerable.
Smalling was certainly not alone. James Milner could be seen giving the ball away in his own half, demonstrating that he is not a natural full-back. Ben Foster, deputising for Joe Hart, made a couple of decent saves but there was another moment when he rushed off his goal-line, seeing a danger that was not there, and that moment of impetuousness almost led to England going 2-0 behind. At 1-1, Foster came haring out of his penalty area again, justifiably this time, but was beaten to the ball by Valencia and fortunate the striker did not score his second goal.
England had looked threatening themselves, however. They attacked with width and penetration in the first half and frequently managed to get beyond the Ecuadorian defence. More than anything, Rooney demonstrated that playing on the left does not necessarily mean being on the edges of the game. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was doing the same on the right and it was from one of the Arsenal player’s forward thrusts that Rooney scored the 39th goal of his England career.
In the midst of the scramble, there was a touch of good fortune about the goal because Oxlade-Chamberlain’s delivery had actually struck Lambert’s arm first. After that, Lambert and Rooney both had a stab at the loose ball, from inside the six-yard area, as the goalkeeper, Maximo Banguera, tried to smother the danger. Lambert’s backheel came back off the post and Rooney was first to the rebound. His celebration was a release of pent-up frustration.
Rooney had looked reassuringly sharp and eager to impress in a position he has not always relished. Frank Lampard was also playing well and there were flashes of Ross Barkley’s talent just behind Lambert. Yet Hodgson must have been concerned by his team’s defending. For the goal, not enough was done to cut out Walter Ayovi’s left-wing cross. Smalling’s jump was mistimed and Shaw was not covering as Valencia moved in between them to score with an expertly placed header.
The most encouraging aspect for England was the number of chances they created themselves. Rooney and Lampard both tested Banguera with long-range shots in the first half and, after the interval, the speed of passing and movement frequently opened up their opponents. Oxlade-Chamberlain, in particular, could reflect on a productive night until he was hurt in a 63rd-minute challenge with Carlos Gruezo and forced off, meaning Jon Flanagan came on for his England debut.
Jack Wilshere, who improved after a slow start, should have benefited from his first start in any game since March and Lambert, once again, showed that he is not in the slightest fazed by international football.
His goal was a demonstration as well of Barkley’s uncommon ability to elude opposition defenders, first beating Jorge Guagua, then moving away from Frickson Erazo and slipping his pass into Lambert’s path, running in from the right. Lambert took the shot first time, striking the ball powerfully with the outside of his right foot and it went beneath the goalkeeper.
Ecuador’s equaliser was a peach of a shot from Michael Arroyo, only two minutes after coming on as a substitute, and then there was the flashpoint, as Sterling took off, reckless and immature, and perhaps too eager to leave his mark on the match – just not the way he intended.